“Just an Opinion”

In John Mill’s “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion” he discusses the place that opinions have in society, arguing that there is no place in society for the suppression of opinions, by a governmental power or otherwise. Mill grounds his reasoning in the idea that diversity of thought and opinion is inherently beneficial to society as a whole, which is something that I agree with. I also agree that the idea of a government operating on public opinion is flawed because the fact that a majority of people hold the same beliefs is in no way a guarantee that those beliefs are not incorrect, misguided, or harmful. Also, a majority means there is a minority who, if those opinions are acted upon, are usually being ignored or suppressed. There are many cases that come to mind where at the time an opinion held by a minority was repressed but now looking back, the opinion has been adopted by the majority, the fight for women’s suffrage is one of those examples. I also think it is important to note who’s opinion is typically in the minority, usually those who are disadvantaged by society already whether based on race, class, or sex. 

One idea that I have been struggling with is something that is connected to an idea that Mill’s discussed in chapter four, where he argues for individual liberty and that there is no place for punishment or even intervention for people whose actions are not harming anyone but themselves. But I would argue that opinions can be harmful to other people as well and in some cases, I don’t necessarily believe all opinions are created equal. What comes to mind for me is the belief that some people are inferior whether that be based on race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. Some people may consider those ideas, simply opinions, but I would argue that holding those opinions or implementing them freely can definitely be harmful to others, so should there be an intervention then? I am not arguing for suppression of such thought because I think that is an artificial solution which rarely has long term effects but do you think Mill’s addresses when opinions can be harmful? Do you think it is enough to say that to find the “truth” those opinions (even if they are harmful) are necessary to society? 

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